Americans Considering Alternatives To Four-Year Colleges

By Staff
November 10, 2009

With four-year college costs surging, Americans are increasingly considering different educational pathways towards successful careers.

While experts agree that virtually everyone should have access to some sort of post-secondary education, not all concur that obtaining a bachelor's degree is the optimal choice. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently tackled the issue by posing a question to a panel of education officials: Are too many students going to college?

"It has been empirically demonstrated that doing well (B average or better) in a traditional college major in the arts and sciences requires levels of linguistic and logical/mathematical ability that only 10 to 15 percent of the nation's youth possess," pointed out Charles Murray, political scientist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who was quoted in the Chronicle. "That doesn't mean that only 10 to 15 percent should get more than a high school education. It does mean that the four-year residential program leading to a B.A. is the wrong model for a large majority of young people."

Richard K. Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and professor of economics at Ohio University, agreed. "A large subset of our population should not go to college, or at least not at public expense," he told the Chronicle. "The number of new jobs requiring a college degree is now less than the number of young adults graduating from universities, so more and more graduates are filling jobs for which they are academically overqualified."

Many Americans appear to be of the same opinion. A recent survey by the Career College Association and conducted by Harris Interactive found that 86 percent support alternative approaches to postsecondary education. In addition, 84 percent said that sometimes this education should focus on careers rather than more academic pursuits.

"Traditional higher education is extremely important in shaping the national character and nothing in this survey diminishes its critical role in society," said CCA President and CEO Harris N. Miller in a press release. "It's not coincidence, however, that private not-for-profit colleges and universities are seeing the higher education landscape shifting quickly. Americans view college as less of a privilege and more of a basic economic necessity. The bottom line: People are more than willing to consider alternative approaches to traditional colleges and universities."

As might be expected, others disagree. As reported in USA Today in an article last summer, the College Board estimates that the lifetime "earnings premium" for a college graduate is $450,000 in today's dollars. Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst for the College Board, noted that a college education is particularly valuable during a recession.

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